28.11.10

Is study abroad right for you? PART ONE.

Four months into my study abroad program, and I am still secured in my position that this trip was the best thing possible for me at this time in my life and academic career. But, I have planned this journey for years, knowing that I would travel abroad my junior year since senior year of high school. Sure, my Excel spreadsheet has gotten a bit wonky and my college career may have an semester extension due to California budget cuts, but nonetheless this study abroad trip was right for me.
At SFO heading to Germany! My dad took this 'off-guard' shot.
I bring this up because recently I was contacted by a CSU Northridge student about the process of studying abroad. Through the various conversations and situations going on right now in California with budget cuts and her major studying abroad may not be her best option. It's still up for discussion because there are so many things involved with the process but it got me thinking: How do you decide study abroad the right choice for you?

A resounding BUT IT IS RIGHT FOR ME! can be heard through the HTML of my computer screen, but trust me, as great of an opportunity it is, the downfalls may set you back if you aren't properly prepared. Ask yourself a few questions:

What are you hoping to gain by studying abroad?
If the only thing you foresee here is bragging rights about heading to Paris or London, scratch study abroad off your 'to-do' list right now. Studying abroad is not just about travel, it's about learning new cultures, a new language, or increasing your perspective of the world, academically. It doesn't hurt to travel either, but it should not be at the top of your list. Think about how this will power your major, complete your minor, or make you look to future employers. Is cultural experience or language skills valuable towards your future career? 
Will this set you back or spring you forward academically?
Academics are the number one priority of studying abroad, and your international program on campus is going to let you know this. If going abroad is going to help you graduate or complete a minor or major faster (for me it will allow me to graduate with my minor 2 years quicker!) then by all means try your best to do the program. However, if going abroad isn't going to help you academically in any way (thereby appearing as if you have taken a GAP year abroad instead of studying abroad) don't do it. Seriously, traveling and going to a different country is great, but if you're looking for a vacation, wait until the summer, studying abroad shouldn't be done if you go backwards. Don't declare a minor in a random foreign language or study just so you can hop across the pond, it makes no valuable sense. You have your entire life to travel, and even if you believe you won't have enough money in the future, remember that the power of determination is a powerful thing.
What? They recommended that I should graduate this year, but I just had to see Paris!
Will this set you back or keep you steady financially?
Going abroad is EXPENSIVE! Just the flight over will most likely cost well over $1000 and that's not including the costs of room, board and the crazy exchange rates you will encounter. Can't breathe yet? These rates fooled me too. Start looking and budgeting NOW! Research scholarships (ahem, Gilman is a great one), loans and estimate your FAFSA contributions as well. It worked for me, and as long as you keep track and evaluated where you stand in your budget every so often (at least 1x a month), this plan should work for you too. Take a moment to set up an appointment with your study abroad office, who may be able to contact you with former students who also needed help financially (my IP office was great at recommending scholarships!)
Would you be able to take a year off of work and still afford your study abroad program?
Most likely, no matter how experienced or determined you may be, you will not have a job while studying abroad, especially in a foreign country. This doesn't mean you won't get one, but don't count on a job as a source of income for your study abroad budget. Imagine taking one whole year off of work. Can you still afford all the costs for your preferred abroad program? If not, think about working over the summer before your trip starts in order to save cash, commuting from home, or other options available. For me, the best option was to commute (ouch) from my father's home in Vallejo while taking summer classes (to make sure I'll be ready to go when I come back from abroad!) and focusing on my priorities. For you, the only option maybe to work full-time in the summer, or maybe head home and chill, saving the money as you soak in your three months of anticipation and worry--I mean, relaxation.

What do you think? Is it the right choice for you? Why or why not?

*I'll be back with PART TWO: I've decided to go for it? Now what?! later on this week.  ;)

1 comment:

  1. I was lucky - there are a lot of scholarships for EU nationals, which made studying abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland affordable. And really, I recommend studying abroad for anyone who manages to pull it off.

    You don't just learn something about the country you visit, but also lots about your own countries - simply by living somewhere else, you will began to question the assumptions you always took for granted back home and reexamine them. That's the kind of experience you can't learn from a book...

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